Chapter 54. It Ends?

Chapter 54

It ends?

 

‘To be born again.’

Van Morrison, Astral Weeks.

 

The drive south down Highway 880 past the shit treatment plant, then alongside of the port of Oakland and towards it’s much less than special downtown skyline, past the airport and finally into the always scintillating suburb of San Leandro is not particularly pretty or inspiring.  Neither is the eventual destination.  Doing the drive in a tiny red Alfa Romeo convertible makes it intimidating as well.  This crowded road serves as the main artery south from the port. It is filled with large semis pulling 40 foot containers of imported goods, just getting started on their respective voyages, running late, hyped up on who knows what, driving fast and hard and in a real hurry.  With one mistake any one of those huge trucks could crush my little red sports car in one moment of inattention and turn us into a coke can.  Add the condition of the road, as bumpy as the economy and seemingly with no budget to fix even a pothole, a steady stream of projectiles hurling upwards and you get the picture. It is not pretty. If that isn’t enough, there is the Alfa’s hard, no make that jarring ride, the result of worn shocks and 20 year-old foam in the seats and you have a bracing Tuesday morning road trip. Wearing a bandage that covers my left eye doesn’t help my peripheral vision as I navigate and the sharp residual pain behind my knee felt with every shift shouldn’t help my mood.

 

The view is as inspiring as the condition of the road.  A series of decaying brick buildings line both sides of the interstate in various states of repair along with deserted rail yards and grey concrete BART tracks.  These are vistas that would be common heading south into New Jersey from Manhattan, not here in precious Northern California.  It is a long way from the Golden Gate Bridge and those bright blue vistas of the Pacific Ocean. There are no redwoods or open space to be seen.

 

That is just where I found myself on a brisk cloudy Tuesday morning driving to work once again. Smiling and excited just to be there. I didn’t care how it looked or who was on the road. I was happy as a fucking clam. Which made me wonder, does a clam feel happiness?

 

Anyway the point is this:  All stories come to an end and it was time for this one to do the same. I knew this phase of my life was over as soon as we reached an agreement to start working at the coffee company the week before.  My personal odyssey of manful meditations and mental voyages came to a halt right then.  Just as light bulbs burn out, taut muscles decay, pert breasts and muscular pecs sag southwards as gravity pulls them down, everything ends.  Period.  Moments pass like sand in our personal hourglass until they drain out.  If we are lucky, we get to turn the timepiece over again and start anew.  I got that chance.

 

Change was here. Now. It started today.  I was working again. I was sure that my need for daily manful mediations would fall away gently like a scab that was ready to go and hopefully not one that was picked off too early leaving a scar.  It was all hard to believe but it was over.

 

The manful meditation path I walked over the past 18 months was one of the epic journeys that stitched together form the fabric of my life.  This chapter took much longer than I ever imagined or expected.  All of those days at home that dragged on forever.  So much emptiness to overcome and so little guidance on how to do so.  So many daily challenges and so very few answers.

 

It was a harder and longer trail than any I had climbed before. I was out of energy but not from physical exertion. I had no inner strength left, exhausted by a 10-year stint running a dysfunctional business.  Suffocated by time spent caring for others who couldn’t care for themselves and none left to grow in.

 

Our busy lives leave no time in which to gain perspective.  No time to enjoy the view, much less look at it, from an onrushing express train.  We travel in a blind temporal subway, a tunnel, safe in a concrete tube fine as long as everything works perfectly but not knowing where the train is going with no stops to get off, no cord to pull.  Then I found an emergency stop and the ride ended. Suddenly there was no structure to hide in. No work problems to distract, no one to motivate me. Nowhere to go. Nothing to do.  No emails.  No phone calls. It was totally and utterly incomprehensible.

 

This was a long and often confusing road. The path kept climbing and twisting.  Each turn became sharper as life came back into focus through small victories and major defeats.  Each step more steep and difficult to climb as it revealed new insights.  Each truth less false as it revealed itself slowly over time.

 

Before the summit of change, there are a series of vast plateaus.  When you think that you have reached enlightenment or employment, when you finally walk onto that plain you have been looking at as you climbed upward, it is not there. Instead, there is another steep hill that you did not see. Another climb that you did not anticipate.  There is no choice but to keep going up.  And up.  And then up again.

 

The journey revealed much in my character and opened doors that will not close.  It changed me forever.

 

My love of life increased exponentially, in fact, it became painfully acute. The power of my emotions now overwhelms me.  I find myself crying at sappy scenes in movies where before I had always held back.  Tears flow freely down from the corners of my eyes whenever there is emotional impact, usually during the revelation of a great truth or an act of real kindness.

 

I became a kinder person without sacrificing morals or fortitude.  If anything I became stronger.  Kindness was completely new to me.  I do not recall being taught about kindness growing up. Perhaps I rejected it during the pressure cooker atmosphere of my youth when it was seen as a crack in your defenses that would be immediately exploited by those around you.  Now I live it day-to-day and actually enjoy it.

 

I found a deep inner reserve of strength that I did not know I had. Forced by sheer will alone to climb out of bed on the days when I didn’t want to.  Apply for jobs that I wouldn’t get or want.  Walk long and hard when I would rather have quit.  Made to wander before I emerged from a mental desert.

 

I gained a sense of real spirituality. There is no time for spiritual growth in the life of a Jewish adult male. This was the first time I ever felt anything like this.  Organized religion never offered these kinds of teachings, lost instead in equal parts dogma and ritual.  Now I can’t say that I am a practicing anything these days. I can say that the teachings of Buddhist philosophy resonated with me in a way that my religion never did.  They sunk in right away, permeated my soul and are part of me.

 

I learned to accept and then embrace a good life.  Not what is publicly considered to be a great life, but a really good one. Realized that I don’t have to have the power of Fela or a 180 IQ or a bigger house, car or bank account to achieve happiness.  The sound of my saxophone became that of the sweet notes of Paul Desmond and Stan Getz, away from the overblown power of Julius Hemphill, Anthony Braxton and Coltrane in his later years.  I understood for the first time that great people suffer and often don’t live happy lives.

 

I allowed myself to become vulnerable, something that is both dangerous and exhilarating.

 

I slowed down. By doing so I learned to appreciate simple moments of pleasure that would have passed me by.  Here is one I can’t forget.  A tale of how the lion’s roar of the downshift beats deep in the heart of even the youngest manful man.

A few weeks ago I was waiting for a red light in my neighborhood.  A perfect day to drive that bright red convertible. The car may be underpowered, but it features the classic pinafarina studio sports car nose, shining chrome grill and recessed headlights that say simply sports car.   A very young manful man (probably no more than 8 years old) was crossing with his mother and his younger brother. I waited for them to go by. As he passed in front of the long red hood of the Alfa he looked at it a manner that is usually reserved for the subject of another well known group of manful meditations, women.  I mean he checked it out long, lustful and hard.  Just when he was about to pass by the front of the car, he looked up right at me and said, “Wow Mister that is a really cool car”.

 

I smiled at him and replied, “Thanks. I think it is too.  I hope that when you get older, and if you work at it, you will get the car that you want.”

 

He smiled back. Then he walked away with his towel draped over his shoulder and took his mom’s hand. It made my day. In years past I would have been impatiently waiting for him to get out of the way. I would never have noticed him.

 

I found myself uttering words that I never had before.  One particular five letter word appeared over and over in conversation with friends and family.  That word was happy.  That was new territory in my life.

 

I felt centered.  Calmer.  Stronger.

 

At the same time I lost all patience with those who are close minded, angry and do not listen to anyone or anything except themselves. I discovered that the freedom to walk away from an asshole and not to engage is true liberation. I can’t take them anymore. It hurts to just to listen to their voices.

 

When I look back on the past year and a half it seems like a blur.  I have thought about what happened, maybe too often, trying to gain a better understanding of who I was and who I became.  Some of the moments feel silly or wasted but there is little that I would, or could, have done differently.

 

I don’t know if manful meditation was the cause of these changes.  I do know that they wouldn’t have happened without it.

 

Most of all, I am relieved that the pain inside of me has subsided. I remain aware that it can return at any moment. I worry that fear and resentment will regain an upper hand and wrestle me back down. My anxieties will always be there hanging out behind the scenes waiting for an opening, be it the returning stress of work, the oblivious nature of those around me or too much vino tinto rojo.   They lurk in the background waiting to see if that skeleton key still turns my emotional tumblers, waiting to stroll back into my life like a pimp hooking back up with a whore he has known for years.  A grizzled veteran dealer approaching an old recovering customer who says, “yes man I have what you want…”. It is a fact, my anxieties may be gone for the moment, but they will be back one day and MM will be there to help me to work through them.

 

Above all I hope that I learned how to become a better man. I wonder, when did men decide they were no longer gentlemen? When did they take the gentle part out of the discussion? And why?  When did we decide that it was only important to win with complete disregard to the pain of the other side and the larger question of how you got there?  When did just win at all costs become an acceptable result? Well we men made that decision.  And by doing so we destabilized ourselves. Now when we suffer a loss, which is inevitable, we have no emotional base or historical reference to work from.  Our personal lives are not comparable to great sports franchises like the Yankees or the Lakers.  We don’t lead the lives of LeBron or Kobe or any of these images who are repeatedly shoved into our faces as reference points.  Modern men are not ready or prepared for change or loss just as I wasn’t.  In fact, we are ill prepared, having nothing to fall back on short of trying to win again and no win ever being quite enough.  No one says “just lose baby.”  There is too much black and white, win and loss, and not enough understanding of just how grey it is.

 

It was a time I will never live again. I learned to stretch my mind and my body.  Learned not to fear fear, but to embrace it. To understand that obstacles are fears, nothing more.  Learned to stop daydreaming about life while driving and watch out for that fucking bitch in the white BMW convertible that was about to cut me off and hit the brakes just as she did.  Who did she think she was?

 

Guess the old Zen spirit hasn’t subjugated my LA driving instincts.

 

So there I was, awake again and driving past Hagenberger Road with the top down spring air rushing through the car and warming my soul. Riding to work on a day where the temperature broke 60 for the first time in 3 months.  Even if was only 62 degrees out today it felt warm to me.

 

This was not a typical job either. I was on my way to work in sales for a company that had no marketing materials.  It had no marketing budget either, in theory or reality. No historical data to rely upon.  No computer, I had to bring my own. There was dust coating the desk and half the lights were burnt out in my office. Expired samples and paperwork from the last lost soul that inhabited it littered the room. To make things even better I wasn’t getting paid and didn’t expect to for some time until things got better and sales picked up.

 

In short, it was a perfect opportunity.

 

I drove south. The man-Buddha inside spoke to me one more time as I turned off the freeway and merged onto Marina Boulevard, the exit for work.   I swear that this time I heard a distinct Yiddish accent in his voice as he did, eerily close to that of my father.

 

“Perfect?”(pronounced poifecht), he said to me his voice rising in tone and authority.  “You call this perfect Mr. Big Shot?  Who are you kidding? Now, if the Giants would win the World Series, now that would be perfect.  But this?”

 

I had to laugh.  I mean, who the fuck was HE kidding?  Our World Series dreams ended in 2002 in Anaheim, killed by a rally monkey, dead pitching arms and coaching hubris. A world series win? This would never happen in my lifetime.  Maybe years from now I would watch the Giants play and win a game 7 in heaven. But I would never see it here on earth and with about the same odds of happening as me seeing heaven.

 

The final recipe.   A roast chicken to die for.

 

The technique for making a great roast chicken relies on searing and braising, like so many good stews and chilies.  You need:

 

A good size chicken, 5 pounds plus.

6 carrots.

1 pound mushrooms.

2 lemons.

 

Olive Oil.

Salt, pepper, garlic rosemary, paprika.

A roasting pan with a lid or one you can seal with aluminum foil.

 

Wash the chicken and let it dry.  Rub it with the olive oil, salt, pepper and paprika.  Cut the lemons in quarters and stuff it in the cavity along with the rosemary while you heat the oven to 475.

 

Start with the breast up for 5 to 8 minutes until it browns, no cover.  Bring out the pan and turn the chicken over. Return it to the oven until the other side browns, another 5 to 8 minutes. Lower the heat to 350, add the carrots and cover the pan.  Cook for 1 hour.  Lower the heat to 275, add the mushrooms. Cover again and cook for another 1 hour.  The wing should wiggle freely. If it doesn’t cook in 15 minute increments until it does.  Turn the heat back up to 475 and return uncovered until brown to your desires.  Remove, let sit for 5 minutes.  Carve and serve with lots of sauce and twice baked potatoes.

 

Songs for my funeral.

 

While this is far from an epitaph, I have often thought about what songs I would like played at my funeral.  So here they are.  There only three and if you are there, make sure they get played.  While they are playing please listen.  That is all I ask.

 

Kind of Blue.  Miles Davis.  Words fall short.

Ry Cooder.  Secret Love from Mambo Sinuendo.  A man.  A guitar. Perfection.

Just A Man. Los Lobos. Sums it all up for me.

 

If someone wants another tune play Waltz for Debby by Bill Evans.  Shouldn’t be a dry eye in the house after that.

 

-Some words of thanks.

 

First to my family. She who is Florence. She is there when I need her and is the love of my life.

 

To our two exceptional kidults, Olivia and Mark.  I would not have made it through this adventure without your humor, your power and your passion for living.

 

To my parents, Melanie and Harry, wherever you are for making me smart in every sense of the word.

 

My brothers in arms Mark, Fred, Mitchell, Michael and Ron.  Better than real brothers.

 

My faithful walking buddy, bigfoot white dog Kelly, the walking machine.

 

My friends.

 

My network.  Yes, it is important.  We help each other after all.

 

And to everyone who listened to me during this journey and anyone who ever read these posts.

 

I thank you all.

 

Fin-

April 19, 2010.

 

Chapter 53 Monday. Monday.

Chapter 53

Monday. Monday.

Can’t trust that day.

The Mommas and Papas.

Expect the unexpected.  Plan for the worst.  You can’t force the issue.  The best laid plans of mice and men. The meaning of these tried and true homilies boils down to a simple truth.  Try as you want, you can’t control what is going to happen in life.

As per the norm, she who always has a busy week was out the door early by 7:30 am that Monday morning, leaving me to contemplate my ongoing quest for perfection in my approach to huevos rancheros.  Recent developments included a two-pan method guaranteeing not only a crispy tortilla but evenly melted cheese and well cooked eggs.  This morning’s version was stellar, topped with fresh cilantro and green spring onions picked that morning in ze garden and a dynamite roast garlic salsa made the night before.

This long-awaited day started with the absolute best of intentions. I approached the end of this period of almost constant home-stay with reverence and humility, eager to use these last few hours to look back one more time on the past 18 months of inner work and the learnings that I experienced. The goal was to spend the day in a sequence of complex meditations that probed my life, my strengths and weaknesses.  To examine what had been accomplished during this time, a very tall order.   So before the final journey to the mancave, there was a need to get organized. I sat at the dining room table, coffee cup steaming(organic East Timor hard to find but worth it), writing out a list of subjects to cover that day.  They were quite a group.

Expectations and how to avoid them.

Acceptance of limits.

Humility.

Friendship.

Death.

Anger.

Violence.

Failure.

Fear.

Obsession.

Choice.

Career.

Joy.

Parenthood.

Failure.

Success.

Why do Alfa Romeo engines always burn oil?

I couldn’t resist that last one it truly is unanswerable.

At that point I stopped.  I read over the list and laughed.  There was no way to cover that kind of ground in a day of even the best work much less in a week.  The only hope was to attack this list as if writing a business plan and that meant to prioritize. Didn’t work either.

After spending 15 fruitless minutes moving the subjects around and around in order of importance I gave up.  It would be easier to say fuck it and celebrate the end of this era by not meditating.  Go out, enjoy a glorious early spring day and get some gardening done.  Ride the bike.  Walk the hound.   But that seemed wrong.  Disrespectful of the process and myself.   There needed to be some kind of closure and that wasn’t going to happen sitting around wondering.  Who knew what might happen, there was only way to find out. It was back to the cave for the final session.

Opening the door once again and looking into the mancave I felt sad, almost nostalgic.  Staring at the bright purple cushun where I had spent so much time and the variety of guy posters (sports and music subjects, nothing changes) taped to the walls in a feeble attempt at decoration, it all suddenly seemed strange, foreign.  Yet if any knowledge was acquired from this work, it is that there is no gain found in sitting around worrying about what has already happened.  It is so much better to sit down and get started working to clarify what was learned and seal some of the knowledge before the next phase of life began.

After crossing the room, I sat down on the cushun one more time and began the last meditation with mixed emotions.   This had been a bittersweet period of my life. There is no doubt that if I had kept working it would never have happened. There is no way I would have chosen to spend the time I had engaged in manful meditation.  To make things worse for an overly analytic and fact driven mind, the results were not tangible.  There were no benchmarks, no red line issues, no defined process to judge by.  No, the value of this unexpected and unique experience lie in the pearls in these oysters not in harvesting them.  Even that analogy was far too judicious to sum up the strangeness I had experienced. Ceasing to earn a substantial wage and looking for things to do to kill excesses of time was so painful.

But looking hard within revealed what pearls they were over the course of that morning. Several thoughts emerged over the next 20 minutes of calm sitting.  The first one was that wasn’t the last meditation.  It was the final mediation in a sequence and the end of a period, not the end of meditation.  Meditation would be back.  That was a relief.  Changed the outlook of the morning a full 180 degrees.

The next realization was that what was learned would stay with me. With any sense of discipline (always my strong suit) the practice would continue to grow in the future.  MM was a base to work from during the next phase of life which, no doubt, would have its own sequences of ups and downs.

The core message of the morning was that the best solution to finding a meaningful meditation, and perhaps life itself, was not to force it. Learning not to try so hard was so damn antithetical to my very nature, always having been taught that trying hard was the key to success.  Now, it was time to back off of the pedal and feed the engine easily, not flood it (remember once upon a time there were carburetors and you could do that).  Easier said than done, but a good goal to carry forward.

Feeling centered I relaxed.  Then, without reason, my mind wandered off into a sequences of virtual voyages centered on an unexpected subject.  A celebration of the environment, a series of grand visions of great public places both inside and outside.  It certainly wasn’t a serious meditation as hoped for, but it felt good and there was no reason to fight it.  It was fun and it was easy to jump right in.  So much for discipline.

This part of the last meditations began with an image.  A llama.  A beautiful large white animal with curly fur perched on a mountain top at Machu Piccu in Peru.  He was staring out at the world and I stared at him.  No one and nothing moved.  We stayed there together for a long while.  Neither of us blinked.  I saw the green hills, the ancient outlines of a powerful civilization.  Felt the sun pushing through the clouds that danced across powerful mountain peaks one after another as far as the eye could see.

The images continued with a sequence of great public squares and buildings. My vision soared around the world carried by the wings of imagination.  They flew to an empty San Marcos Square on a winter’s morning, a sole figure, an old man in a business suit wandering across the brown stones in the morning in the company of hundreds of pigeons flying overheard.  A massive crowd came hurrying by, thousands of faces of all ages, races and financial means, pulsing with life, surrounded by the ever-changing massive neon signs, lights images and TV screens that surround Times Square which then unexpectedly morphed into Piccadilly Circus.  On without pause to metal stairs climbing up surrounded by the ornate lattice work of the chocolate brown Eiffel Tower looking out at the Champ De Mars on past Ecole Militaire and Montparnasse to the totality of the city of lights seeming to stretch forever.  The stairs continued up and up but the build, design and materials transformed into the geometrical patterns of the Alhambra in Granada Spain.

The speed of the vision accelerated flying back home, dipping in and out of the rotunda at San Francisco City Hall, the bleachers at Pacific Bell Park and then out again into the cave and by the drawings at Lascaux and on to the Western Wall in Jerusalem.  On, on they went to Aztec Pyramids outside of Cuernevaca and then into the Plaza Central of Mexico City in the middle of a massive political protest alighting again in the middle of the world’s largest boulevard, the grand Julio 9 in Buenos Aires watching traffic fly by.  It became dizzying.  It was time to slow down.  It did.

I took 20 long breaths.  Then I received a final vision that afternoon.   I still don’t know how or where my visions came from or why.  They were quite a group; starting with a floating hamburger in a Boston hotel room and continuing through burning bar-b-ques, the violence of my father, my grandmother’s cookie dough, a perfect peach and it’s visual cousin a perfect tush, the birth of my son and a spinning beer bottle.  There would be one more today.

This one was different from the start.  It had an incredibly grand and quite imposing entrance. It began with an all-white flash, bright almost blinding and pure energy.  For a second I though I was having a stroke, but a quick inventory of symptoms found everything in order.  The white light stayed.  Was this a preview of death?  The afterlife? If so, why now? Then a tiny circle began to form in the absolute center of vision.   It was brown.  No yellow.  It grew in size until it dominated the room.  This was no circle.   It was not yellow.  It was gold.  It was a ring.  Then I recognized it.   It was really surprising.  It was a wedding ring.

Without delay I shot back to a moment 30 years ago when a much skinnier and younger version of myself stood in a city hall in small village in Northern France with their communist mayor and his assistant who bore an uncanny resemblance to Miss Piggy, adding to the already surreal situation.  I stood in this mediation, dressed in a just too small tux looking in her eyes (blue as ever) and putting the ring on she who became my wife at that moment’s finger for the first time.  I was getting married again.

I stopped for a second and wondered. Was this a meditation or just a memory?  Did it matter?

Before proceeding with the meditation itself, I experienced a feeling of anxiety.  After all, marriage is a huge subject and the basis for so many decisions that follow in life that are not taking center stage at that this instant.  Some anxiety about this decision is normal.  Not feeling anxiety wouldn’t be.  Anxiety about the moment and equal amounts of anxiety of what will happen afterwards.  There will be no other day quite like this one in life.

The meditation returned.  I take a long moment in the meditation to remember how she looked (very pretty and very thin), her hair (very blonde), what she was wearing (an elegant well cut white dress with a bright blue sash).  What was I thinking at that moment?  Can’t remember. Can I remember who handed me the ring?  Yes, my brother-in-law. How did he look?  Skinny like me.  Happy.  Who was on stage?  I can’t picture it. I do remember the look in her eyes and the commitment in our hearts and the burning sensation in the pit of my stomach.

I take some time out breathe deeply for a few moments before returning to it one last time.  I bring her hand back into mine and feel its warmth as I did that day.  I get the ring out where everyone can see it and slide it calmly and gently over her finger again. I stop, repeat the image, breathe deeply and dwell in the purity of the instant.  The mediation ends there and I immediately awaken.  Sun is pouring into the mcave, spring is everywhere.  I rise in balance.

Lunch follows.  Nothing fancy, leftover minestrone to be precise.  After I finish eating I am ready to hit the cave again.  But as I approach the door to the mancave I stop.  Simply put, I realize that I have had enough for now.  Time for the yang to this ying, the outdoors. I  celebrate spring walking the irrepressible hound into the hills.  As I do I reflect again upon the time spent in MM.  I am perplexed by these questions.  Just what is a meditation?  What is a reflection?  What is a memory?  What is the difference? Does it matter? Was I meditating when I thought about our wedding and the countless subjects covered in the sessions?  Or was this just a bunch of memories strung together to create a sort of personal self-guided rehab? Were these my personal days of awe?  Days of awe that took18 months instead of 10 days and what book was I inscribed in?  Or was this just a crutch, a way to pass time?

Does it matter?  No answer emerged.  Some riddles aren’t there to be solved.

Continuing up the hills and looking out at the bay sparkling in the distance it was a perfect moment to look back. The practice of manful meditation was a gift. It came out of nowhere for no apparent reason.  Now it is clear to me why it did. I had been waiting for it all along.  Any remaining vestiges of doubt that I made the wrong decision by leaving behind an exciting but carcinogenic career that had nurtured me while it was destroying me were gone.

I am confident that I will maintain the practice and that it will change as I start to work again. What was sustenance will now become maintenance and that is good. It is a living practice, not fixed but fluid.

Returning home to the safety of our overgrown cottage I put the leash away and fed big foot a duck breast chew treat.  She is grateful, gleeful as she chews it down.  Following her, walking through the kitchen I feel a powerful surge of appreciation and gratitude pulse through me.

I am grateful for so much. I am grateful that I didn’t fall off of my emotional bicycle pushed by the devils within that tempt us all.  No, this devil is not red.  He wears Armani, smells good, is handsome as hell and hides his tail tucked into the front of his pants just like Mick Jagger used to use a cucumber to emphasize his own pack.  He is a pro.  He is seductive. He wants me to ride faster and faster turn tighter and tighter until I fall. He could have easily overwhelmed me.  Instead I found my center. I didn’t lose balance.  I did not give in to my personal demons for this could have been a period of excess instead of growth.  MM was my personal road map to a better life.

I am comforted in the power of an internal drive within me that guides toward better things and a full life in the face of strangeness.

Looking back there are no great narratives in this phase of my life.  No great story line and thank goodness for that.  I didn’t get in a major car wreck or fall of my bike and no one got sick. The cancer I experienced was a disturbance to my life not a fatal occurrence, something that could be overcome.  There were no disasters.

There is another reason why excess didn’t overcome me.  I am fortunate.  Fortunate to have the power of choice.  Not to be torn apart by the economic realities that have devastated many men greater than I.  To have a home a family and a loving world full of friends and acquaintances to nurture me and provide sparks where needed.   Some money in the bank (even as we live in deficit, spending more than we earn, just like the country).  People who listen to me and give me advice as needed.   To live with a moral center and the strength to persevere on the days where it would have been easier to just say screw it.

I was at peace. There was only one thing left to do. It was time to cook dinner.  The choice screamed at me. Lasagna. A great lasagna starts with fresh pasta.  It changes the dish in so so many ways.  For one thing you don’t have to cook the pasta first.  That alone is worth it, saying nothing about the improvement in taste and texture.  That being said, here is how:

Get a large baking dish.  Heat the oven to 375.

Ingredients:

Basics:

6 sheets fresh pasta.

1 lb mozzarella cheese

½ lb sharper cheese, say provolone.

1 can chopped tomatoes.  Italian if possible.

1 bottle of pasta sauce.

Some grated or shredded parmesan.

Fillings.

This is a matter of choice.

They can be vegetarian or meat.  The idea is to have 3 of 5 layers be filling, two of tomatoes and cheese only.  It creates a diversity of textures and taste.  For vegetarian I like sautéed chard or spinach.  For meat, browned lean ground meat or sliced browned sausage of choice sliced thin.

Put a small amount of olive oil and water in the bottom of the baking dish.  Place the first layer of pasta.  Cover with 2/3 of the canned tomatoes.  Place a second layer.  Cover with filling and ½ of mozzarella cheese.  Place a third layer.  Cover with the second filling and the balance of the mozzarella.  Fourth layer.  More filling.  The sharper cheese.  Fifth layer.  Cover with tomato sauce and the last 1/3 of the canned tomatoes.  Final layer.  Brush with olive oil and any leftover sauce sprinkle with parmesan.

Here is the key, seal the pan tight with foil. This allows the pasta to cook as the dish steams. After ½ hour, take the foil off, increase the heat to 400. Cook 10 more minutes.  You will know if it looks done, it depends upon the density of the agreements.   If so, serve, if not back to the oven until it bubbles….

Making the meal was a blast.  My concentration was clear  and the dish turned out as harmonious as I felt. Unfortunately she who is never on time on a Monday came home late. No, even though it was back to work tomorrow there was no time to celebrate, it was just another Monday night.  Enjoy dinner in front of the TV, stay away from to much of El Rojo Forte (a very good Oregon Pinot AGAIN and tough not to have that third glass) and suffer through another Giant loss which stung even more after Sunday’s collapse in Los Angeles, wasting a good pitching effort from Zito.  Maybe he would make a come back.  There is nothing like a 10th inning loss after coming back to tie it in the 9th to leave a sour taste in your mouth.  This team just had no identity.  Another fucked year loomed.  My life was changing, it sure didn’t look like they were.

Tomorrow there would be change.

Songs of change:

Redemption Song.  Bob Marley.

A Change Is Gonna Come.  Sam Cooke.  Or Bobby Womack.  Or  Otis Redding.

Changes.  David Bowie

World In Changes.  Dave Mason.

Change the Lock.  Tom Petty or Lucinda Williams.

I Feel A Change Coming On.  Bob Dylan.

Chapter 52 Last Weekend. Final Performances. Show Must Close Soon.

Chapter 52

Last Weekend.  Final Performances.

Show Must Close Soon.

‘If you ain’t gonna get it on then take your dead ass home.”

-George Clinton

The sports theme carried right into the Saturday morning sitting as soon as my eyes closed.  This time my thoughts took me on an express train way back a to a more innocent time where sports, and sporting events, were not overwhelmed by big screen televisions, strobe lights, 120db plus sound systems and a barrage of ads, free pizzas and rap music.  Most times we were content to watch low def and even, yes even black and white TV.

Before television came to dominate our lives, we enjoyed the pleasure of sports at home through a simpler now seen as primitive source, an audio signal.  In this meditation, I imagined a scene from those days.  A chance to recreate those moments in my childhood listening to sports on a transistor radio under my covers with the volume turned down to low low low. I hear the voice of the announcer.  I see the court in my imagination, how my favorites players look, how the crowd sounds.  I dive in.  It feels great.

Listening to sports was a unifying factor for so many young boys (and yes some girls). Who was it that took you out of your shitty bedroom (and away from your parents!) and onto the court without leaving when you were young?  Was it Vin Scully or Chick Hearn for those lucky kids like me who grew up in LA? Was it Mel Allen, Ernie Harwell, Jack Buck or Harry Carry if you had the chance?  The likelihood is that it was some announcer that no one in their right mind but you could possibly remember, but we can take ourselves back to those moments with pleasure. Where were you? Sitting in the vinyl front seat of your car with your dad driving in the country at night picking up a remote AM station with a flamethrower 50,000 watt signal or scrunching down down down into your chair in class with an earphone, wire hidden in your shirt, on so no one would catch you listening to the world series.

You are back at the game again and it’s all still alive in your memory.  I hear Vin Scully’s voice and take myself back into those innocent times.  It’s a 3 and 2 count on a warm September night.  The bottom of the ninth.  The bases are loaded.  The crowd is cheering.  The pitcher (Drysdale?  Koufax? O’Steen?  Sutton?) goes into his windup.  The runners, who have taken their leads, begin to move.   Strike 3 call got him looking.  The stadium goes wild.  In this meditation the home team always wins and I am smiling.

Afterward things calm down a bit and my thoughts turn to a more sedate and adult path. I visualize the daily newspaper that I love to read, the Chron.  It doesn’t matter where I do it, I just find a happy place put my feet up get a cup of coffee and get the day started. Pulling the sports section out first, still readable unlike the rest of it, and I read every word about the local teams and then every word about any team that might be competitive with them.  Can’t miss the gossip about the major players and if the morning is slow, I find myself scanning the statistics.  I even wander into the standings every day.  I love my sports section, from the columnists to the weather on the back to its stupid green color.  It’s a simple basic pleasure and reassuring to know it is there for me each morning.

The session concludes with a real treat.  I let myself wander far and wide scanning my mental hard drive for some favorite sports moments.  A path of pure unadulterated joy, full of spectacular visions of players that I loved over the years.  To  recall the smooth release of a basketball from the reliable left hand of Jerry West. The vicious break on a Koufax curve ball.  A vicious tackle by Ronnie Lott or David ‘Deacon’ Jones. The incomprehensible rainbow arc on a baseline shot by Purvis Short.  The acceleration of Jerry Rice running under a pass thrown with the quick release from the right and left arms of Montana and Young.  The awesome power of a Chamberlin slam..  The sheer speed of Barry Bond’s swing.

I am quickly overwhelmed with images that begin to blur with one another. Then a moment emerges. It is the 1989 super bowl between the 49ers against the Bengals.  Oh that final drive in the 4th quarter when Montana hits Taylor with no time left and the room exploded as did our heads, all in a highly altered state of consciousness in every sense of the word. I can hear the scream to this day. Ahhhhhhhhhh what a noise.  My back arches at the thought of the collective scream as John Taylor crosses the goal line.  A city feels a moment as one.  It is electric.

Saturday afternoon I break.  Everyone needs to rest and every week should have a Sabbath moment.  Even she who encourages me to meditate seems to think it is a good idea.  She suggests a movie but I can’t concentrate so I decline.  We wind up like most couples searching for something good on the TV (didn’t) after take out burritos (steak black beans mild salsa) and fall asleep without a good night.  It’s not big deal and we sleep well.

In a long run or bike ride there is a moment when your exhaustion fades and you find another gear.   The second wind, that extra something that allows you to burst through your perceived barriers. That is what happened on Sunday where my mind went a bit awry looking at altered states.

At first I honestly believed that it was going to be a meditation about music.  There was no visual image when this particular meditation started, just darkness when I heard a sound in the distance.  It was soft, I couldn’t tell what it was.  Ambient and non-directional it grew until I recognized what it was, a bass line in my head that wouldn’t go away.  There was this ‘thump thump ah thump thump ah thump’ that sounded suspiciously like the opening of a P-Funk concert I attended years ago.  Yes, do not adjust your dial.  Something had taken control. The feeling was dark and viscous and potentially vicious.  It just stayed there, no instruments came forward, no vocals, no drums and I sat for a few moments in anticipation. confused.  Waiting. Waiting.  This was some long intro. And then it happened.  From deep within I now knew that I stood at the gate of a temple of mandom which contained the greatest idol of man-worship, where I would receive a vision which stood head and shoulders above the others.

There it was. It was beautiful.  Holy.  Perfectly shaped.  Graceful in its simplicity.  I could not take my mental eye off of it.  It was breathtaking in its perfection.

It was a cold one.

I see it.  The unmistakable shape of a dark brown bottle with a long thin neck centered against a black background.  It has no label. Then it begins to spin, rotating slowly around and around.  Then there is movement from the top. I see a hint of foam and then a full head emerges.  It begins to overflow. A rich caramel colored liquid began to emerge from the top of the bottle.  Yes, yes, it was a river of India Pale Ale.  And it flowed and flowed and flowed. It was the endless fountain of beer and I was Ponce De Leon. I discovered a source of eternal brew.

As I watched the beer flow I shifted gears subtly and without reason began to meditate about beer and mandom and immediately lost most of this pure pleasure.  We know that beer is deeply hardwired into our male consciousness to the tune of billions of dollars a year of sales and countless television ads that seek to shamefully capitalize upon artificially constructed manful moments to sell a particular brand and lifestyle.  That fact depresses me.

In stark contrast, in my meditation I had the freedom to choose the beer I wanted based on real factors like taste, smell, finish and color.  This was real choice, not one dictated to me by talking frogs and imaginary male bonding.  To make things even better I had free beer to enjoy.  So I turned the meters back to pleasure and away from too much analysis.  Screw sociology, I wanted to think about the pleasure of a good cold beer.

Eventually, the bottle gradually faded away into black. As it did I returned my focus to the pleasure of drinking beer, where the rubber meets the road.  Things began to slow down.  A sense of peace and purpose emerged.   It was a simple path that I took, well trodden and well know.  First, I examined the question of the glass.  It is chilled? Yes, absolutely.  I pull one out of the freezer.  Where to start.  Keep it simple, how about an easy Belgian beer to get started?  Nice.  Yes, a Stella sounds right, lets start slow.  There is that glass with that classic Stella logo. I put it on the table, alone naked empty. I envision the wonderful light pale lager, blonde clear, and so pure. I am ready for the moment of heightened intensity, the pour.  Everything seems to slow down even further.  I hold the glass at a slight angle.  Pour the beer from the bottle into the glass slowly watching the head begin to form.  Now I wait and let the beer settle down.  The head is perfectly shaped at the edge of its geometric possibilities.  The moment arrives.  I bring it to my lips and sip, drawing the cool clear refreshment inside.  I rest for a moment and then a sort of beer tour begins.

My visions move slowly into wheat beers cloudy and sharp with the juice of freshly squeezed lemons.  They turn to the medium body and bolder flavors of the pilsners.  I let the hops and barley come into play as tastes become more forward into a variety of ales, porters and then stouts.   Suddenly I am overwhelmed with nostalgia for beers from the past. Those old beloved warriors, from Hamm’s to Lucky Lager to Raineer and Olympia and Falstaff.  I remember their labels, the shape of their bottles, their tastes.  I honor their memories.

Finally the beer images fade.  But my mind isn’t done.  Oh no not even close. It wants more much more and I can see where it is going.  Yet  I can’t start a new alcohol steeped meditation without setting the stage, and what goes better with a beach on the Pacific Coast of Mexico than a, well, you know what.  If you have been there, you know what is coming next.

I begin the next self-guided meditation with these simple and elemental thoughts.  Warm sand warm sun blue sky warm clear water.  I repeat  those words five times.  Now I feel them. Warm sand, warm sun, blue sky warm clear water.  I repeat them again and when I am done I am ready for my personal Latin lady, a cold perfectly made margarita.  How will I make it?  Over, never ever slushy.

The fun begins.  I go to the freezer.  Open it.  Watch the condensation slowly pour out as I pull get the ice tray.  Crack the tray and put 4 ice cubes per dose in a big ceramic bowl. Now go to the bar and pull out that favorite tequila.  Hmmmm.  What to choose? How about Porfidio out of Vera Cruz.  The greatest looking tequila bottle, tall and slender with that glass cactus coming out of the bottom.  Or that old standby, Don Julio? Don Cheapo from TJ’s?  It’s a matter of choice now. It can be silver it can be gold, reposado, anejo, all are available in this meditation.

It continues on. I bring out a silver cocktail shaker from the bar.  Get several limes.  Cut them in ½.  Take a moment and look at each ½, put my nose up to them and draw in the tart but sweet smell of the tropics.  Squeeze them by hand or with a squeezer.  Watch the juice run into the cocktail shaker.  Smell the fresh citrus spray in the air.  I take the tequila bottle and pour in twice as much of the lime juice that has been set aside.  Get out the Cointreau or the Grand Marinier. Pour in one part.  Feeling aggressive?  Let’s make it a double.  Why not?  Who is counting? Add the ice cubes.  Cover with the strainer.  Shake and swirl.  Round and round. Find that favorite glass from that trip to Sayulita.  Now hold the strainer over the shaker and begin to pour. Watch the margarita as it pours into the glass, cloudy and cold. Sit down some place comfortable.  Take the glass.  Return to the beach. Look at the view.  Bring the glass to my nose and smell this sacred blend of the fruits of this earth. I take the first sip, not too long, but enough to fill my mouth. Sip and sip again.  I pause.  Then I repeat the vision, stopping at five times. I am happy just thinking about it.  Repeat again and again and why not, here in the mancave I won’t get drunk.

The tour continues. Next up is an appearance by Mr. cool calm and collected, the Martini.  Why is the Martini so sexy? Is it the exquisite detail in preparation of this austere yet complex combination flavors or is the damn shape of another holy manful vessel, the martini glass?  And no other meditation offers quite the same manful moment, as I take a moment of truth to focus on the ultimate martini drinker, James Bond.  The mind becomes even more clear and I repeat the manful mantra, shaken, not stirred. Shaken, not stirred.

As those words repeat. I return my focus to the beloved receptacle, the martini glass. I move to the freezer where it waits, cold yet clear.  Waiting for me alone. I choose my alcohol and the accompaniment of choice.  Onion, lemon peel, vodka or gin, this hallowed menu is shaped by personal volition.  Imagine the cold metal cocktail shaker in my hand as I shake it back and forth.  Now strain the drink into the glass.  Look at it.  Hold the glass by the stem, raise it to my lips and sip.

I let a botanical cloud of flavors descend over my lips and tongue and down my throat.  The spices and herbs of the gin, forward yet understated, the beautiful luminous quality of the cold liquid.  It is an elegant and manful meditation as cool as the drink itself.

The tour accelerates.  I see a Cuba Libre and a gin tonic on a very hot day. A water glass of Scotch over ice. A warm brandy snifter, a spectacular French cognac. I  hold the bowl in my hands, swish gently dip my nose deep.  I smell wood, caramel, smoke and I breathe as deep as I can.  Again. Again.

Then, as with so many joyous moments, and just as with the experience of alcohol itself, a cloud appears on the horizon.  First it is small and far far in the distance but it quickly begins to grow darker and envelop the mind.  I feel strange.  Could it be? Yes, even thought I thought it couldn’t happen, I begin to feel drunk. This makes no sense.  I try to go back to that moment where I crossed that internal frontier just ahead of the word coherent but it is too late. While it is fun and always easy to meditate about a cocktail or a beer and the pleasure it brings at a given moment, suddenly focusing on being drunk is quite a different paradigm altogether. It is as hard as the real thing to control.  My stomach begins to feel queasy.  My head is pounding and I am warm, flush, but my sweat is cold.

Then the room begins to spin.  This is stupid.

I open my eyes and end the session. It takes me several minutes to calm down and for the sick feeling to pass.  It is way too real. Sitting there I close my eyes and without real choice it starts again. I travel back to a moment when I was really drunk. Where was I?  Bar?  Home?  Or at party? And I ask myself this question: Why did I get drunk?  Just how did it came to pass that I wound up having that extra one too many?  Sadly, I think of this:  how is it that I can’t remember the last time I was in the past 20 years when I know that I have been?

To make things worse, I start to think about the pain of the next morning. When considering a hangover an obvious choice emerges. Why meditate about it?  Why would anyone want to focus on such an unpleasant subject as a hangover?  I can’t think of a reason and I decide to end the session there. Enough is enough.

She who is not so clueless as to notice that she is being ignored schedules a Sunday afternoon yoga class for which I am grateful. Once there the class comes easily.  It feels good. I stretch into a triangle and as I do I wonder about why such negative thoughts come into these meditations.  Considering them, I see a reason. Bringing mental focus and increase acuity to the more unpleasant subjects and aspects of life helps me to deal with them when they occur.  Overcoming negative thoughts and finding joy in that teaches me to minimize their damage and to look forward when things are bleak.  A skill to carry out of the mancave and into life.

The day ends after class, well really it ends after to go Sushi, no brown rice  and tofu tonight.  After more than a few sakes, I pass out.  Before I do I sense that there has been a shift in thought in these mediations.  Tomorrow is the final day at home.  That session isn’t going to be an easy one unless I want to be.  I don’t.

Songs that love the liquor.

Demon Alcohol.  The Kinks.

Warm Beer.  Cold Women. Tom Waits.

Spill The Wine.  Eric Burdon & War.

Palm Wine Sound. Fela.

The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me).  Tom Waits again!

Gin and Juice.  Snoop or OAR versions.

One Bourbon.  One Scotch. One Beer.  John Lee Hooker.

Drinkin’ Wine Spodeeohdeee.  Jerry Lee Lewis.

Tequila.  The Champs.

And on and on it goes.  My last image before going to sleep is that of  chimpanzee holding a beer and laughing at me.  I have no idea what the fuck that means.

Chapter 51. The ManMed Marathon Begins.

Chapter 51.

The Manful Marathon Begins.

The manful meditation marathon began promptly at 9 am the next morning following a ‘power’ breakfast of steel-cut oatmeal topped with blueberries and a double espresso. I was primed to start the process. Training time was over.  This was going to be the big time manmed session to remember.  The launch of the next phase of my life and a celebration of the end of this one.

I was psyched.  Totally.

The days that followed were a blur of thoughts and visions.  Some days I sat for over 4 hours straight, breaking for lunch and then back onto the purple cushun’ for the afternoon.  Other times I passed out cold during a deep meditation, waking up to find big foot white dog sleeping contentedly along side of me.  One afternoon I just got bored and quit when my ass got too sore. By the time Monday evening rolled around, the floor of the mancave was littered with coffee cups, clif bar wrappers and dirty plates that I hadn’t bothered to remove.  I could see the remnants of huevos rancheros and chicken pesto paninis when I finally cleaned up and looked back on the longest sequence of meditation exercises that I had, and likely would, ever engage in.

I had resolved to begin this mental workout Thursday morning with an easy exercise. A warm up for the head to help me stretch the mind.  I didn’t want to analyze my life in too much detail, at least not yet. I wanted to celebrate it instead. But even though my goal was to lighten up you can’t always control what comes into the meditation process.  I had to reject the first subjects that came forward that day out of hand as too complicated and exhausting.  They included such easy happy thoughts about death, anger, violence and failure.  Now any one of those topics would have kept me busy through the weekend, set a difficult tone and exhausted me before I could finish what I had set out to accomplish.   These final meditations had to be fun.  The serious stuff could wait until the end.

As I took control and began to relax I saw what looked like white clouds floating in the inner distance.  They were beautiful ivory snowy peaks soft inviting and warm.  Warm?  Just where was this going?  I looked harder within and realized that they weren’t clouds, not at all. They were giant puffs of shaving cream.  Yes, my first meditation of the day took me inside of a wholly unremarkable yet core man moment where we find in comfort of a really good shave.  What a simple elemental pleasure.  Started with a thick coating of warm lather that I massaged into my face slowly and carefully until an even layer was done.  Saw the even slow strokes of a new razor, moving up and down my cheeks, my chin and then my neck but never across. Splashed hot water across my face and then felt the comforting steaming moisture of a steaming towel that opens the pores.  Ran my hands over the so smooth finish, no nicks or cuts here.  Enjoyed the brace of a biting citrusy after-shave.  Visualized the happy reception I would get from she who hates anything resembling a beard on my face.  Oh, what pleasure there is in woman’s hand as she slowly runs it over your cleanly shaven face looking you right in the eyes! Then I repeated the exercise again.  It was the male equivalent of a warm cookie or a roaring fire, a moment of total comfort and I stayed there in bliss until I was ready to move one.

The following moments surprised me with their radical  shift of direction.  They were primal but I did not resist.  I moved directly into a meditation that focused upon building a fire in the outdoors, a sense that lies deep in the recess of our male sub-being.  I am in a forest.  I see a large pile of wood.  It’s a drizzling very cold day but with a lot of faith, newspaper and kindling we are able to start it together.  I watch the fire as it begins to climb gradually catching hold against the odds.

There is a large fire pit, 10 of us are warming ourselves by the fire at it catches, avoiding the smoke that seems to follow us around the circle.  We talk for hours huddling to stay warm.  About what, I can’t say.  Who was there?  I don’t know them. Strangers brought together on a cold rainy day by the warmth of a fire.  I can’t make out their faces or remember what we said.  At a point the words become a hum that grows progressively louder as the meditation finishes.  We are chanting together under the trees, the rain does not matter.  We are swaying with the rhythm of the branches, we float in the fog like holy men.  The drone goes on and on and on until it slowly gently fades.

This is an easy place to break and I do for a quick lunch of leftover steak over arugula salad.  I am completely relaxed. I linger over each bite and chew carefully, something I never ever do.

After lunch I continue with a meditation on the garden where I stay for a long while and finish the first day.  The garden creates a set of meditations which bring me infinite pleasure.  I start with mowing the lawn. Now I don’t have a lawn anymore but I used to.  I hated it.  To my mind, the lawn is the garden equivalent of a dysfunctional high maintenance relationship.  The only thing I did like about my old lawn was mowing it and that is a pleasure that I won’t forget and focus on. I watch the circling push of the blades cutting across the grass, feel the worn grip of the handles and the resistance it creates as it pushes back against my hands.  Most of all I revel in the smell afterwards, the fresh cut grass smells like nothing else on earth.  In my meditation the lawn is green lush and full.  It’s never brown or full of pesticides. It doesn’t drink water insatiably.

Then without warning the meditation morphs into a moment years and years ago when the kidults were little.  I have gathered the fall leaves from our sycamore. They are brown now with a cedar like smell and crunching underfoot.  I see them both clearly, so small, so happy running up to the pile, launching themselves in and doing it again and again and again.  The meditation ends as they throw leaves at each other until they fall down laughing exhausted.  I watch.  It is as if they are hear with me in the room.

My journey shifts again and I am now cleaning the dog shit in the back yard.  Sure, I don’t want to focus on it too long, but getting rid of the crap feels so good and not having to smell it anymore is its own reward.   It is part of the cycle.  I honor it.

The garden afternoon climaxes in an explosion of plants, vegetables and flowers.  They come in no particular order.  There are the creamy white tulips waving in the first spring breeze, then the deep purple of an iris contrasted by it’s yellow center, now the smell of new blossoms on our Meyer lemon tree the taste of a parsley sprout as I nibble on it.  Explosions of cherry tomatoes bursting with natural sweetness in the height of what little summer we get, the feeling of warm wet compost between my fingers just watching the earthworms undulate.  The rich green color of mache lettuce, the taste of a just picked nectarine, the never ending march of the parsley plants intent on conquering all.

But no release is complete without the subtle sense of loss that follows and that is just what happens to this vision.  The garden starts to change, bright colors becoming grey, full stalks collapsing, green shoots turning brown in my own time lapse vision.  I see countless rows of dead hollow dark brown tomato plants bearing a solitary green fruit shivering in a winter breeze.  I examine the threadlike fingers of the fungus that lives beneath the soil, tear apart the overwhelming root systems that choke off growth everywhere, only to find more and more.  I smell the deep must of decay. Now there are armies of aphids sucking the life out of my onions, leeks and chives and snails eating leaf after leaf after leaf leaving only the naked stems behind.

Then I think hey, maybe it is time to stop for the day.  As I do I am left with one thought, why does a garden fail?  And then I wonder, how do you define failure in a garden.  There is no answer.

Dinner that night is simple, a large green salad with tuna, black beans jack cheese and a lime cilantro dressing.  I don’t have much to say and I am asleep by 8:30, passed out and content.  I sleep soundly barely saying good night to she who is almost always asleep before I am home late from a board meeting.

Friday starts on time and further on point.  I begin with a meditation on another core value of mandom.  Our desire to fix things. Our compelling need to make them tick.  An unrelenting passion to make things work right.  I visualize a bicycle tire that is full and balanced, a door that swings open and true and drawer that opens and closes flush. I follow with a meditation on my favorite tools commencing with a screwdriver that I found in my father’s garage while cleaning it out after he passed so so long ago.  He modified his 8-inch long screwdriver by notching the end so it would work with either regular or Phillips screws.  It is a symbol of his mechanical prowess, something I never understood when I was young.  A parade of tools follows, tiny Phillips screwdrivers for tight places, a perfectly balanced hammer, sharp saws, rubber mallets, awls, wire cutters, socket wrenches and that wonder of wonders, the crescent wrench.

As the garage fades I come to the living room and the fixing continues.  I am now working three different remote controls, trying to find the right buttons and to get the DVD to run. I switch a remote to the HDMI 2 input and finally there is the picture. And I wonder, why do we need so many inputs? I see them now, components, video, audio, optical, left right, empty receptacles waiting only to be plugged in.  They taunt me in their silent confusion.

Feeling strong, I am ready to tackle a real challenge, one that has slain the confidence of many a greater soul than mine:  Building an IKEA dresser.  Anyone who has ever started at the climb up this mountain knows what I am talking about.  You unload the box and here they are, the bizarre tools of this strange craft, wooden pegs, oddly shaped mutations of screwdrivers and allen wrenches, similar but subtly different sets of bolts and screws designed to confuse the unfortunate and uninitiated.  You sort them you pile them and then, feeling strong now, you confront the gate-keeper of this dark world, the building instructions.  Wordless pictorials to guide you through a Tolkein like trek led by mute ghostlike cartoon figures with no faces.  What appear to be simple drawings that turn out more complex than the old testament.

The battles that follow are epic, the pieces you try to fit with the knowledge that they are wrong and will have to be rebuilt, the fear as a key wooden component begins to shatter.  Yet you push on until it is done, hands bleeding fingers bruised hoping against hope that when you finish everything fits.  I emerge from this meditation chaste, clean, pure.

I am totally into this now, the cushun has become part of me, the mediations flow one to the other.  I have to say I have no idea how I get to the next bus stop on this ride but there I am. I find myself thinking about bodily functions.  They create a set of meditations unrivaled in their smell, touch and effect.

I start by imaging the wondrous pleasure of scratching my balls.  A sensation so satisfying as an imaginary itch disappears.  The subtle adjustments afterwards, a sense of newly found space and balance that follows.  Then my thoughts move into a visit to the throne, yes, putting on the crown and taking a major dump.  There is a good magazine article to enjoy along with it and I sit.  It is so satisfying to feel my system in such harmony and wonderfully empty afterwards.

Things start to move quickly now.  I feel the divine ecstasy of a good belch after a really good meal.  Deep, primal, liberating and sometimes painfully dangerous after spicy food. I find the release of blowing your nose when badly congested.  Not a little effort either, a powerful blow where you put your soul into it and feel the pressure change inside of your ears. Now I breathe deeply without restriction filling my lungs and releasing and filling them again.  My breaths are deep.  Full.  Alive. I have cleared the  clotting phlegm from my chest and I am free.

Then there is a successful flossing followed with a good bracing, minty and not to sweet mouthwash.  I run my tongue around newly clean smooth teeth.  And again.  And again.  It’s ecstasy.

I come out of the journey and open my eyes.  I look at the clock and am amazed, it is 4 in the afternoon.  Strange. I have been meditating all day yet I am not hungry.  There is time for a quick walk then a simple meal, a vegetable stir fry over brown rice.  I settle into the couch. There is a ball game.  The Giants look like shit, Zito gets blasted by the Dodgers cadre of young hitters, another long miserable season looms of watching Manny pound our pitching staff.  I barely notice that she comes home late from Yoga and she doesn’t seem to mind asking only if there is something to eat.

It’s fine.  I’m in no mood to talk.  The dog is snoring but I don’t notice it.  I’m asleep by 9.

Chicken Panini Sandwiches.

1 baguette

Left over chicken.  If none, deli slices will do.

2 slices provolone.

5 Sun dried tomatoes.

Pesto

Mustard.

Warm your panini machine or heat a pan. If using a pan add a little oil.

Cut a piece of the baguette that reflects how hungry you are.  Then cut it in half.  Layer the chicken, provolone, sun dried tomatoes and pesto.

Press and grill or if in the pan, heat over medium heat until brown using a heavy object to push the panini down.

I wanted to list a bunch of great sports songs, but alas, there are none that come to mind after We Will Rock You by Queen and the theme from Rocky.  By the time that Na Na Na, Na Na Na, Hey Hey Goodbye comes in, I am done.

Chapter 50. Run Motherf….er. Run.

Chapter 50.

Run Motherfucker. Run.

‘They call the wind Mariah’.

The only way to run a marathon without dying is to train for it.  Then, when you think that you are ready, you train some more until running distance becomes second nature.  Well, I had been training long and hard for my manful mediation marathon and was more than ready for a mental run to far side.  A quick lunch burrito being gone and the dishes put away, big foot white dog would have to wait; there would be no walk today. Meditation was calling. I headed back to the mancave, sat down on the cushun’ and closed my eyes once again psyched to hit the ground running.

The task at hand that afternoon was to uncover a treasure trove of new manful subjects to meditate about so I could get them out of the way before starting to work again next week.  I was down to my last days at home and I knew that I was running out of time to do so. I could feel inside that things would soon be different, for the better I hoped, but different no matter what.  It was time to tie up some loose ends and seek some closure beforehand.

Instead, I plunged into the cool waters of a very calm and relaxed state of peace that seemed to last forever even though only a short time passed, no more than 20 minutes.  It was a classic meditation, the kind I couldn’t have dreamed in the past (what me sit still?).  When it was over I didn’t feel peaceful, I felt frustrated. I had failed. Where were those manful subjects that I wanted to cover in the now anticipated mediation marathon?  That list of great man stuff I wanted to deal with so I could move back into to a working man’s life without feeling guilty about what I hadn’t been able to accomplish while hanging out at home.

So I sat there. Waited some more.  Still nothing came.  Was this some kind of final cosmic joke?  A message on the inner machine that there was nothing left to meditate about, so why not just get on with life and move on.  Was that all there was?  Was MM over?

I sat up straight.  This just couldn’t be. There had to be more ground to cover.  The show couldn’t end here.  So I sat there some more and waited for any kind of inspiration to show up.  As I waited none came.  I began to wonder about the whole mishegas.  For starts, why had I even chosen to meditate in the first place?  I was never exposed to anything resembling Eastern thought growing up, except for that one group of guys in high school who heard you could chant for a new car (they didn’t get one) and the saffron robed Krishna’s dancing dancing down the streets.  I could have cared less about Eastern thoughts, having enough trouble dealing with Jewish ones.

Where had this desire come from? How did this Eastern stuff seep into my life?  Did it begin the first time I heard Coltrane blow India or Africa or a Love Supreme?  When I saw John McLaughlin and Carlos Santana take the stage filled with candles at the Kabuki, all dressed in white. So blissed out and blessed out by Sri Chimnoy as they wailed on their electric guitars. Listening to Miles play Bitches Brew live at the Hollywood Bowl or the opening chords of that weird Beatles song on Revolver? The first smell of jasmine incense?  The first sound of the tabla drum?  And when did the trance become real, that unusual rhythmic beat that had beckoned me for long, how did it become an integral part of my life?

No doubt I became really curious about meditation after witnessing first-hand what it did to see who does not relax except when she is asleep and maybe she isn’t relaxing then either.  I had never seen her calm (remember that quiet is not calm) in the first 15 years of our marriage until she began meditating.  It evoked a huge change in her. There she would sit in our bedroom, headphones on blissed out and so happy when she finished. It looked great.

What held me back from embracing it years ago? Simple.  The complete lack of male energy in her meditation process. By no means is male energy a prerequisite for me to learn a skill. I have no trouble sewing a button on my coat (it needs fixing and waiting for help is hopeless and hapless).  I love gardening, cooking and other allegedly feminine activities.  But the whole meditation scene around her was dominated by pastel colors, roses that contained your inner fears, burnt sage and steeped deeply in the zeitgeist of women’s issues and feminist philosophy.  Let me be clear, I am not criticizing their style.  It just had no appeal to me and it wouldn’t to any regular guy.    And to be perfectly honest, as a result I didn’t trust it.  It was just too foreign to embrace.

Only when a good dose of masculine energy seeped into my quest did these Eastern concepts gain traction in my soul.  I still have trouble believing that a series of events that began as a ruse on my wife to get her off of my back as I sat stuck on my couch unable to overcome the inertia of living without a career set me careening down this road less traveled. That out of nowhere I heard an inner man Buddha speak to me and a journey began that continues to this day down this out of the ordinary path that I came to call manful meditation.

It wasn’t easy to find help or guidance.  There certainly was no map to follow for guys like me. I suffered through poor teachers and bad instructors. When that failed, I figured that there might be some reference on the internet or something to meditating with a male emphasis.  Nothing.  I was on my own and lucky that I found the way over time. I thank the stars for that.

There were other more personal reasons why it was hard. Early on it became clear that while I yearned for a powerful inner peace within, I knew damn well that I couldn’t calm myself down using traditional methods.  I needed help and not just the usual prescription. I needed guidance with male view that spoke to me.

I searched for books about Eastern thought by male authors who might make sense.  They were wonderful writers but completely neutral in tone, virtually asexual in nature and some downright creepy, replacing the power of the rose with the shape of a pine needle.  For a man who grew up with Vin Scully and Chick Hearn as his primary motivators, their mellow approach did not anything to help me overcome the long-standing persistence of my hyperactive Jewish/western mind. Nor were their instructions to practice and practice until it came good enough either. I stood on the other side of this dance floor afraid to step across just looking and looking waiting for an opening that was already there.

Eventually the mediations began to take hold.  I’m the kind of guy that has trouble reading a manual about how to work something and would rather poke at until it does.  Meditation was no different. I just kept at it until it worked. I learned over that first year that the problem with meditation for me and maybe for many others it that it is passive and we aren’t.  As I began to practice Manful meditation regularly, I replaced the traditional emphasis of meditation on emptying your mind with a focused and controlled set of thoughts that were appealing.  It helped me concentrate to pick a specific subject and then to focus on it.  That, in turn, made it easier for me to relax which helped my mind to calm down and over time it trained me to do so easily.  Oh, and it was fun.  That’s right, fun.

My manful meditations started with simple easy subjects that made me happy and held my attention.  Easy things to focus on. Stuff that reflects the glue that binds us, the male html code that builds manfullness.  Good healthy things like beer, baseball, hamburgers and wine.  Hey, I didn’t know what I was doing.  I was just thinking about what seemed to come naturally and easily.

Then over time as my power of concentration increased, the mediations grew in complexity.  As my studies intensified and fall blended into early winter something else happened that was unexpected.  I calmed down and I believe that as a direct result, she who is my wife loved me more than before. I meditated about manful subjects that I could understand and love and focus upon with an open heart and lots of joy. I could spend hours lost in manly bliss and equally powerful marital harmony.  No wonder I was attracted to it.

With equal parts concentration and confidence, I covered some serious issues in my life via mediations. Taught myself to forgive, never my strong suit.  Then forgave my parents.  Learned how not to be as overwhelmed by the complexities of living with someone as complex as someone who would even think of living with me. Learned to embrace the pains and struggles and to let go of what I cannot control. Learned the new mantras that guide me now, how often do I hear the voice within that steers me away from anger, resentment and corrosive thought towards joy, giving and strength.

As I continued down the path of manful meditation I discovered something else. I believe that I learned what Manfullness really is.  A deep understanding of Manfullness that is grounded in the belief that the world that we know as men is truly a holy place.  That every waking moment that is spent in a manful state of harmony can be a blessed one.  A perfectly balanced state of mind and body, something to be revered and celebrated as healthy happy males.*

(* a brief side note: As women have staked out their roles as equals in his world, the concept of manfullness has taken quite a beating in the past 20 years.  And let’s face it; many of our brothers have done a shit job by polluting manfullness with stupidity and abuse.  Do not fall into the trap of blaming women for this. Our goal is to honor being a man by living a better life and that honor extends to respecting those around you.  And a note to those self-righteous women who continue to condemn the mass of men for the sins of those who came before us, do not throw stones in the bedroom when you live.  It pisses us off and makes us want to leave.)

I had embraced the gentle part of the word gentleman, something so many men have forgotten.  It felt good.

Manful Meditation created an additional benefit that I grasped as another incidental pleasure of the practice. A sweet real treat, a sort of mental biscuit waiting for me at the end the road. Here is one of the most important and liberating lessons of the practice of manful meditation.

No woman, including she would not want to be called ‘my woman’, will ever challenge time spent in a manful meditation practice if you repeat the blessed chant of the meditating manful man to her:

“Honey, I need a few more minutes, I am in here meditating.”

Oh, and toss this one in if you really want to be left alone.  ‘I am really into it.”

Or this one:  “It’s a really tough one.”

She will embrace you.  I guarantee it.

The first time that these words came spilling off my lips they worked so well that I laughed out loud, reveling it their power, it was that good. I used it on her after watching a brutal 49er loss one Sunday afternoon (it was the early game). Not wanting to see a soul afterwards, I retired to the mancave where I went to console myself with several cold ones, a corned beef sandwich and some SCTV videos.  Sometime during the afternoon she knocked on the door and asked how I was doing.  I turned down the volume and told her I was meditating. After my reply she walked away from that door saying not to worry and talk to her as soon as I was ready.  When I emerged later that afternoon she could not have been more sympathetic (and affectionate too!). Do you really think she cared about how pitifully the secondary handled itself that afternoon (please just turn the fuck around and look at the ball) or that she would have reacted as well if she found me on the couch in the living room in the same scenario?

Over the course of my growing meditation practice, I imagined how this teaching could help my brothers in arms out there.  Think about this. Repeat that line about needing time to meditate to yourself a few times and imagine how that would play with your partner.  Go on, imagine the scene.  She has just walked into the room.  You are sitting up on the couch.  You might be thinking about how your favorite ball club gave it up last night in the 9th inning and worse yet, how much money you lost on the game.  You hear her walk in.  Now close your eyes quick. What do you tell her when you look up?  You tell her that you are meditating.  That’s right.  Mediating.  You are bettering yourself.  The result? You are golden.  She loves you. She walks away feeling whole.  The entire scene has changed. Done a 180. But the truth? You could have been falling asleep.  You probably were asleep.  You might have been thinking about a blessed cold one or a slice of pizza. Your mind could be anywhere.  Period.  You could be thinking about anything, anything at all.  You can and it will work.  But I digress.

Manful Mediation taught me lessons that I will always treasure. It brought me joy where there was pain, slack where there was tension.  It acts as the coder pins of a balanced manful experience, the silicon lube that frees the internal rusty mental hinges. Teachings as clear as the power of a strike at the bowling alley.   A journey with the integrity of Sean Connery and the consistency of Tom Brady.

I had found my roadmap, a manual, a guidebook to living life fully and completely in the moment. Free from boundaries and loved by those around you.

How is this even possible?  I just relaxed, released and practiced grasshopper. And please don’t think too much about how Carradine died. Wow that was weird.

As was the case on so many afternoons I started to think about dinner.  Maybe Rack of lamb.  Real Mashed potatoes.  Cumin scented  Carrots.  A dry white for her and a big red for me.  Suddenly I felt excessive, it was only Thursday.  But wasn’t there a rack still in the freezer just waiting to be defrosted?  Time to thaw.  Time to thaw.

Rack of Lamb.  Is there an easier way to show off?  I don’t think so.

Ingredients.

1 Rack of Lamb, about 8 to 10 little chops for 2 persons.

Salt, Pepper, Olive Oil.

Option 1.  Mustard, Bread Crumbs.

Heat your oven to 450.

Put a flat baking sheet in the oven as it heats.

While waiting, toss the rack with salt, pepper and a small amount of olive oil.          If cooking option 1, combine all other ingredients and coat the rack.

When oven reaches cooking temperature, remove the baking sheet.  Place rack fat side down.  Bake for 7 minutes.  Should be brown when you turn over. Bake 7 more minutes. Lamb should be brown but still pink in the middle of the chop.

Real Mashed Potatoes.

For small portion.  3 russet and 3 Yukon potatoes.

Milk/Half and Half.

Parsley.

Salt.

Butter.

Boil the potatoes in salted water.  Cool.  Peel.

Put the potatoes in a large bowl.  If lazy use a hand masher, if pure, a ricer.   Pour in ½ cup of milk or half and half depending upon health vs. pleasure concerns.  Add butter.  Mash.  Add salt to taste.  Add liquid until the texture looks right, you know what they should look like. Chop parley and sprinkle on top.  Place a pat of butter in the middle and let it melt.

Early meditation music before I knew what it was.

John Coltrane, India, Africa and/or A Love Supreme.

Ravi Shankar

The Beatles, Within and Without You, Revolver.

The Kinks, See My Friends, Kinkdom.

Miles Davis, Shhh/Peaceful, In A Silent Way.

Chapter 49: Things Get Wet Easily, But Dry Slowly.

 

 

Chapter 49

Things Get Wet Easily But Dry Slowly

 

 

At the moment that I made the decision to take the job, I felt something subtle slip deep inside.  The same feeling resurfaced again later during our sort of celebration dinner, an evening that was highlighted by the unmistakable look of relief on she who was wondering if I would ever leave the house again for anything but a walk, the groceries or yoga class.  Not wishing to derail our happy mood, I didn’t let on about the fact that my mental state was off if ever so slightly.  The sense that something was amiss remained there at the edge of my consciousness just out of view, feeling like the slightest miss in a transmission shifting gears.  Enough to let you know something was off but not to take it into the shop.  I couldn’t put my finger on it. Maybe I had found a new lower gear, some kind of personal overdrive that caused my brain rpms to drop?  Maybe I was happy? Or perhaps was it a lot simpler.  Maybe I was just plain relieved to see an end to this phase of my life on the horizon.

 

Whatever it was I slept like a rock that evening.

 

I woke up early the next morning to a bright blue sky and the sun shining brightly into our bedroom, she long long gone.  As soon as I got of out of bed, I was set to make the move.  To make the call.  It was time to get off of the bench and check into the game.  On y va mon ami.  Yallah. Schnell. Move the ball. Andale.  Kadimah.  Forward.

 

It was time to leave the house.

 

I found the phone in it’s cradle (a good omen) and made the call.  John was already in the office at 8, another good sign.   Our conversation was brief and to the point once again.  We would finalize the terms of our agreement on Tuesday when he returned from a business trip and unless there was some issue that came up, I would start whenever I wanted working as much as I needed to learn the lay of this new land.  It all took less than 2 minutes.  He added that he was excited about the potential of working together and that was it. No strain, no issues.  Weirdly calm, I hung up and just sat there for a moment stunned at how easily this was all going.

 

That morning time became different.  For so so long I had been challenged by a seemingly infinite sense of emptiness and a lack of structure.  As soon as that phone call ended time, the concept, now carried a sharp point of definition that started next Tuesday when I would get in my car and drive to the office.  That activity, i.e. going to work, as normal as one could imagine, now felt like a rare delicacy sitting on a plate waiting to be eaten.

 

Afterwards, I said fuck it to myself and returned to bed enjoying the leftover warmth in the flannel sheets.  Next, after  a short moment of shut-eye, I enjoyed a long peaceful set of downward and then upward dogs, stretching myself out, slowly, luxuriously and easily.  Finding new motivation in this newly re-defined sense of time, I threw on some sweats and took big foot on a quick walk to the corner bakery.  (P.S., I don’t care if they call it a patisserie, it’s a still a damn bakery).  I brought home an almond croissant for me and a brioche for her (she who loves a brioche sandwich not big foot white dog).  White dog had to settle for kibble and left over sourdough bits but she didn’t mind.  Made a cup of dark roast Sumatra, thick viscous and chocolaty and drank it slow, savoring the contrast against the pastry.  I lingered over the NYT and let the sun shine through the dining room window warm my back.

 

I, who do not ever ever recall being calm, was damn close if not there.

 

Following breakfast, there was only one thing to do and one place to do it in.  At that second, the thought of going to the mancave felt as sweet as the honey and pistachios in a gooey square of baklava.  I couldn’t wait.  The chill had gone out of the house and I tucked myself easily and comfortably onto the cushun’ waiting to see where the practice of manful mediation would take me that day.  Oh, the world felt so fine, I wanted to dive into a pool of clear thought and swim.  And I swim I did.

 

As I rolled through those moments of precious mental peace my mind drifted over the events of the past few weeks.  As I did, I came to understand a different side of my now limited time frame at home.  To my surprise, I became concerned, realizing that there were so many subjects that I hadn’t had time to work on in my practice of manful meditation. I wondered if I would get the chance to cover them once I started working.  And even if I did, would they be the same?

 

And then, yes once again, the inner man bhudda showed his wisdom as he spoke to me from deep inside.  ‘Why worry bro’, he said, ‘do what you can now and take what you can later’.

 

Do what I can later.  Hmmm.  I had the rest of the week and nothing big planned but so much to cover.  That left one answer.  A manful meditation marathon.  A personal conscious-raiser.  A celebration of manful meditation and all that it had been so far and what it could be in the future.  It sounded great.

But what would I meditate about?  How could I choose?

 

To know where you are going you must know where have gone, although lord knows it would have been easy just to repeat the subjects that I had worked on already.  Looking back over those meditations, for the most part I had kept to the middle of the road of mandom. We honor memories of the simple things we love most first, like alcohol, food, sex, and cars and that is just what I did.   Yet by doing so I had missed scores of important subjects of great meaning that should have been dealt with more seriously during this phase of mental liberty.  Instead they were forgotten or glossed over in favor of tits, beer and a tight spiral or a deep three.

 

New possibilities raced in and out of my mind bouncing into consciousness and then disappearing again.   How was I going to discover so many missing subjects with so little time left and hope to prioritize them? I needed to start meditating immediately, but how would I figure out what these missing subjects were?  I drew inspiration from she who is the yin to the man Buddha’s yang.   There was no choice.  I broke out of my trance, got off the cushun and went to get out a pen and paper and started to write out a list just like the hundreds that seem to cover her side of the office.

 

So here are the subjects that I wrote down during that 10 minute stream of consciousness that I could read later.  Alas, many many others were victims of my uniformly and historically horrible penmanship.

 

What is the meaning of marriage?

How could I improve my relationship with she who is sometimes here with me?

Parenting. How to get over it.

Parenting.  Does it ever end?

How did I relate to my two kidults?  What had I done wrong as a father? What had I done right?

Why had I scrupulously avoided examining mortality?

What was death?   How could I have gone deep and not gone there?

Love and how we play the game of love.

Sex.

Success.

More sex.

Cars.

Even more sex.

God.

Or no god.

My Jewishness.

Or my not being jewishness.

My Jewish capitulation to the pleasures of life.

Trust.

Distrust.

Happiness.

Pain.

Boredom.

Guilt.

 

All that in 10 minutes.

 

As I read over this list of subjects I knew that I could meditate about them for the rest of my life and never fully, no partially, understand them even if I worked on them exclusively for all time.  And would never have the time go back to work.  Perhaps more importantly, hundreds, no thousands, of philosophers had spent their entire lives debating these subjects and writing texts that bordered on holy that went on for thousands of pages without deciding these issues. Who did I think I was I to think that I could meditate about them looking for answers? Spinoza?  Freud?  Sartre?

 

Far from it.  Better to think about the Giants, Cartier-Bresson or a porcini.

 

That triggered another thought, education. The truth is that I have always been an A-/B+ guy. Now, looking back on my education, I realized that my approach to learning was liberating.  True, I wasn’t a Yale or Harvard grad (with due respect to the Cal Bear nation).  In fact, I was so out of whack on this issue when younger that I felt intellectually inadequate graduating from U.C. Berkeley Phi Beta Kappa.  Although in classic Kragen fashion I squeaked though with the lowest possible grade point average clearing the hurdle by .03% before they raised it for the next semester.

 

I walked the intellectual line without achieving the singular focus to higher levels of greatness for a simple reason. From the beginning I was drawn to a full balanced life.  Yes, these were all important subject to cover, but so were the arts, music, photography, food, food and food.  Why should they suffer just to score another .05% on a g.p.a.?  I never got that.

 

There had to be less stressful things to meditate about, things that would make me happy and that I could still learn from. As I finished that thought a vision popped into my head that I knew could follow.  It was a moment I wanted to revisit, so I headed back to the cushun and sat back down.  The manful meditation marathon had begun.  I closed my eyes and took myself right back to the birth of our first child, my son.

 

This is a meditation that too many men might have had to skip and that is a shame. Maybe they weren’t there, maybe they closed their eyes or left the room. But for those of us who witnessed the birth of our first child, and yes our first son, it is a moment of pure and clear manfullness as bright the first moments of as a desert sunrise.

 

I remember the date, September 4 (sorry family, just kidding).  Then I tried to think of the time to recall whether it was morning afternoon or evening.  I went back a few hours and put myself in the moment when we looked at each other and realized that this really was the moment that we had been reading about and thinking about and worrying about.  It was time to grab that bag we had already packed and get the car.  I go back to the drive to the hospital, admission and the rooms we were in that day.  This isn’t a test but I remember it all.

 

After a small eternity passing time listening to Motown and watching the heart monitor, they finally moved us to a birthing room. Where am I? Just trying to keep her distracted and joking and the nurses and doctors. Then I am back at that moment when birth occurs. How hard she worked the pain, the screams, the push and then the head poking through, the wet tousled hair, the sudden shocking moment when the shoulders clear her body, the rush of the being into the world, the first time you see your first child. Totally at peace and fully zoomed in this manful moment, I relive the first time I saw that little penis and knew it was a boy.   There is that skinny pale body and the first action he takes, a cry, a breath and then a glorious pee.  A gentle arcing stream of water, free for the first time and all over the nurse.  Welcome to the world amigo.

 

Then do the same exercise for the birth of my daughter the greatest Christmas gift of my life.  Remember being at a Christmas party timing the labor pains so we could leave at the last possible second.  How much faster she showed up.  Impatient, stronger, emphatic, louder, darker and more powerful, she emerged like a cannon howling.  She was ready for the world and still is.

 

All of this memory caused another reaction, my stomach growled and cut through the peace of the moment.  It was time for lunch.  I knew that there was nothing in the frigo at the moment, this called for a steak burrito with black beans and hot sauce, easy on the rice.   I asked for extra hot sauce.  It burned just like it should.

 

Music for labor (for Dad mostly)

 

To bring you both up:

 

London Calling.  The Clash.  This of course depends on your wife and can be a dangerous choice if it fails.  Then again, with the right girl…

A safer alternative, Tom Petty.  Greatest hits.

 

Maybe better to stick to Motown:

Marvin Gaye, The Master Vols. 1 to 4.  This will kill a few hours.

Dianna Ross and the Supremes, any greatest hits collections (for her)

Barry White.  The greatest hits.  To keep her calm and laughing.

Hall and Oates, Greatest Hits.  Nothing like smooth sailing.

 

There in case you need to come down:

 

Keith Jarrett, the Koln Concert.

 

For the birthing room.

 

Nada.  You are there to be there, not to listen to music.  Turn it off.

 

 

Chapter 48. Follow That Bouncing Ball.

 

 

Chapter 48

Follow That Bouncing Ball.

 

On Monday morning I felt much better.  Yes my left eye looked like she had finally lost patience with the bad jokes and sarcastic jibes she puts up with daily and let me have one as richly deserved.  Yes I still hadn’t worked up the guts to look at my poor nose which remained carefully embalmed under layers of gauze and pressure Band-Aids, checking in at an ungodly 3 times its normal size.  Yes I still couldn’t breathe.  But all of that didn’t matter because today the tide had turned.  The pains were gone and I could see that for the first time the swelling wasn’t getting worse.

There were other reasons why I felt this way. On this particular Monday I knew that this week would be different because I was going to back to work.  Soon.  I could feel it.  My sense of confidence about this was deep, not set in unfounded fantasies about what I might be doing at a new job as I had done too many times before.  I could feel change around the corner.  I just had to let it come on in and it would happen.

 

I called John at the coffee company that morning to confirm our Wednesday appointment.  I warned him not to be shocked by my appearance when I walked in the door and explained my recent trip under the knife.  It hardly seemed to matter to him and he wished me well as he hung up.  Although impersonal there was nothing wrong with his response. After all, this was business and there was little else to chat about.

 

With spring in the air and physical recovery on the horizon I felt strong and energized.  With little to do and change coming, I did what any good Jewish man would do at that moment. I opened all of the upstairs windows and then I cleaned.  And cleaned.  And then cleaned some more.  I plotted a blitz attack on my office, clearing piles of bills and don’t forget to do’s, opening drawers that had been shut for months with the Clash and the Who Live At Leeds cranked up so loud that white dog fled the room after barking at the speakers.  I threw away piles of magazines that were more than 2 years old god knows why I kept them.   By the end of the afternoon I had filled several plastic trash bags and spent some quality time with our shredder, stopping short of attacking the closet and settling for a late afternoon margarita instead, my first drink since surgery.  Let me say right here that it felt fantastic.

 

Where a day like this would have bothered me in months passed, now it was easy and light.  The rest of the day ended with burgers on the grill (never too cold to crank it up), most of a bottle of Tempranillo (how can anyone make decent red wine that cheap?) and a scintillating Monday night match up between the Jets and the Titans.  I barely noticed that she came home early and then left almost immediately for meditation.

 

The next day, after a breakfast of steel cut oats, bananas and almonds washed down with a cup of oh so sweet medium roasted Timor, I set out for the mancave. I anticipated a meditation in preparation for my job interview.  I wanted to clear my head of the strange energies that had accumulated over the past 18 months of underemployment.  I was convinced that if I could nail down what this unanticipated period of under-activity had meant to me I could start a new chapter of life much more easily.

 

Well not exactly. When I started in on my ritual manful meditation nothing of the sort happened.  My mind went empty as the blocking schemes of the 49’er offensive line and stayed there.  Instead of panic, my breathing was deep, calm and focused.  I thought of nothing and 20 minutes later I emerged refreshed and centered.  This, I think, was what meditation was supposed to be like, manful or not.

 

In a sense my inner thoughts were ahead of my conscious mind.  They let me know that there was nothing more to meditate about regarding what had happened over the past year and a half.  It was done, gone and over. I had to be let go, to disengage in order to move on.

 

And so I had.

 

After the meditation session ended I didn’t move. I sat peacefully cross legged on the cushun, eyes wide open staring out at the neighbors rooftop and the clear blue East Bay sky once again, noticing that the tree in her back yard had started to shoot forth green leaves as another cycle of life began, an appropriate symbol for what was finally happening to me.  Sitting there, having let go of time, I began to think about what the last 18 months had meant to me.

 

Lots and lots of thoughts emerged about what it all meant.

 

For the first time that I can recall it became OK to do less in my life.  I entered into a mental state that I never before experienced, a time of less.  A time where there were no great moments or accomplishments and eventually I became comfortable with that, not that it was easy or instinctive to do so.           This unstructured time was a kind of mental anti-inflammatory, a period of completely unexpected personal calm that emerged slowly and naturally over time.  As I embraced it, I experienced a profound sense of being in place and at peace with where I was in the cycle of my life. I gained an understanding of what I could do and, in the hardest part for me, a begrudging and then complete  acceptance of what I could not.

 

It was a time to walk the dog for the sake of the walk and not the expectation that she or I ‘needed’ the exercise.  To let dirt crumble between my fingers as I planted bulbs in the fall knowing that there would be tulips and iris in the spring to photograph.  Moments to watch the mozzarella cheese on the pizza bubble to brown perfection and not to burn it in the oven because I was trying to do to many things at once.  Time to rub the back of she who is so stressed she forgets how stressed she is and then rub it again to help her remember how good it feels.  Time to let go of myself my needs, my desires, and let the world come to me as it does not under micromanagement.  Time to be available to my kidults as they passed through the many paths of their own young lives as a mentor, friend and confidante and not have to hang up the phone because I was busy.

 

More importantly this was a time to slow down. How very very strange that felt at first.  It wasn’t that way now.  I had learned to drink time in and savor it.  Honoring that feeling, I sat and then sat some more, taking in the warmth of the afternoon sun lying on the carpet eyes closed when I felt a paw grab my leg and looked up at the crazed expression of a white dog who had come back upstairs and was now fully ready to play.  We did until, as is her nervous femaleish way, she got bored and walked downstairs.

 

What else to do in such a mellow mood then to cook?  The fridge was full of vegetables including several gargantuan organic leeks that I had picked up the weekend before at the farmer’s market. I submit that leeks are more delicate cousin of the onion. They don’t burn your eyes when you chop them and they give that je ne sais quoi to the traditional vegetable soup that I was thinking of.  A round sweetness that the onions, food warriors that they are, just can’t.  A vegetable soup that could warm the heart of any woman, including mine.

 

It was still cold outside that afternoon and the kitchen windows steamed quickly as I sautéed the leeks, celery and carrots along with lots of dill, parsley.  Soon the house smelled ridiculously homey and white dog scored lots of floor goodies as bits and pieces of vegetables found their way to the floor along with several carrot bites which she still had no idea how to catch no matter how soft I tossed them.  I felt that I was standing in some European/Americana moment, linking me back to those grandmothers who had come before us in the soup that cooked slow and long.

 

The soup worked as well on she who came home at about 7 as a dozen roses.  What a smile.

 

And then boom, our meeting on Wednesday showed up.  It was an extension of our first one, all business and no bullshit.  Then only negative was that I got lost again and showed up 10 minutes late, a personal peeve of mine when on the other side of the table.  The office looked no different, no busier but no worse and we spent the next hour talking about coffee, how to market their products by segment and how to restart their sales effort knowing just how brutally limited the marketing budget would be.

 

From the beginning it felt as if I had already been hired and for good reason.  I had been.  And why not?  There was no risk for either side.  He got a sales manager for virtually nothing and I got an office and plenty of upside.  All I had to give up was time and time was something I had a lot of.  As much as I had loved the time at home there had been too much as of late.  I was more than ready to get out.

 

As we closed the meeting and shook hands John asked what I thought about the opportunity.  I told him that I was excited about getting back into the bean business (true) and that I needed to talk it over with my wife (sort of, I mean you just can’t give it up that easy it looks you are too easy). With that I left and drove back to Berkeley.

 

Something was missing in our interaction and on the drive home listening to some vintage Tom Petty I thought about what that could be.  What was wrong, why did this feel so odd and empty? Try as I hard as I could I just couldn’t put my finger on it.  Eventually I realized why I couldn’t figure out what was missing.  Nothing was missing because there was nothing to miss.  The process had gone so smoothly that it was boring.  It was a business meeting with only one goal, to rebuild their business and thus my career by increasing sales.  Makes sense doesn’t it?  Everything else was in place and ready to roll.  Why worry? But I couldn’t help but wonder to myself, where was that missing tension? The waiting, the upset stomach that accompanied a job in play?  Where was that feeling?

 

MIA with my anxieties and my often dysfunctional career choices.

 

By the time I reached home any doubts about this decision made were completely toast.  Eliminating any leftover sense of bullshit bravado or ego, the choice was an easy one.  There were few healthy alternatives on the horizon.   There had been a couple of vague leads early in the year, some work maybe helping out so and so start up a new business all uncommitted. I knew that I spent way too much time writing food reviews and blogs that didn’t attract traffic or editing photos that I didn’t print.  I had killed enough minutes passing the time when the mediations weren’t working and the walks were dull.   There was no point waiting for imaginary opportunities that would never come.

 

That evening I set the table right, got out the silver candelabra and blue candles. Found the decent plates and good cutlery.  I started the evening with a champagne toast followed by a dinner of leftover vegetable soup and a roast chicken with vegetables (heavy on the roots) all cooked in the pan.  When I raised my glass and looked her in the eyes after we sat down I didn’t have to explain why we were celebrating.  She who often doesn’t know what was going on in my life knew loud and clear when it counted.  She didn’t even need to ask.  It all felt so good.

 

Vegetable soup a la maman.

 

Several large leeks.

4 carrots.

1 head celery.

1 bunch dill

1 bunch parsley

1 potato

2 cups chicken stock (recall the earlier discussion on this subject).

Pinch salt and pepper.

2 tbsp. Cooking oil.

 

Clean and chop vegetables small and keep separate.

In large cast iron pot, add oil until warm.

Start with leeks and the potato.  Then gradually add celery and carrots until wilted.  If you have vegetables like spinach or peppers, add them.

 

Add the stock put the lid on and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.  Add the chopped parsley and dill and simmer for another 20 or until mush.  Puree with a blender stick or in a food processor.  If clumpy add water or milk to desired consistency.  If you want it more ‘rich’ add a ½ stick of butter before serving.

 

Songs for a vegetable soup:

 

Call Any Vegetable.  Frank Zappa.

Green Onions.  Booker T.

Know Your Onion.  The Shins.

Parsley Sage Rosemary & Thyme.  Simon & Garfunkel.

Salt Peanuts.  Dizzy Gillespie.

Cut the cake.  Average White Band.

Mack The Knife.  Frank “the Chairman” Sinatra.

 



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